Sunday, November 21, 2010

Post Maui Blues

Those of us who live in a place where a sunny day is cause to celebrate and get outside find it hard to imagine places where a shining sun is the norm -- and expected!  My husband and I just spent ten glorious days on the island of Maui and I found it comical to watch us -- and others like us -- as we headed for that island.

As much as we would like to start out (and return) from such a trip in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals, we must begin and end our travel in multiple layers of clothing.  For me that means a silk camisole under a t-shirt under a turtleneck under a fleece, a scarf, a pair of jeans and warm socks and shoes.  The trip to the airport and back home must be kept in mind, as well as the freezing temperature in many airplanes.

Upon arriving at our warm destination, however, we stumble out into the blazing sunshine, amazed and now beginning to believe that 80 degrees is really 80 degrees.  We start frantically taking off layers, changing into our lighter-weight clothing in the rental car parking lot, baring our pasty bodies to a suntanned populace.  A roomy sundress over my head allows me to strip off the unnecessary layers without wasting time in a restroom pawing through my suitcase.  Sunglasses, visors, sandals, shorts, tank top, how can this be possible?  We are in a hurry, anxious to get to our destination so that we can begin to play in the hot sun.  It takes only a few hours to realize that most of the clothes we brought along are actually too warm to wear in this glorious Camelot!  I wore the same two loose dresses most of the ten days, usually with a swimsuit underneath, ready for any eventuality. 

At the end of our ten-day visit, we sadly leave the sunshine behind, returning to freezing weather and a dusting of snow.  SNOW!  Already the memory is fading, but even as the snow falls and the temperature plummets, I can close my eyes and remember that somewhere in the world it is warm.

Upon returning last year about this time from Kauia, I resurrected a poem I had found years ago after a trip to another sunny island.  I repeat it here.

If Once You Have Slept On An Island

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name.

You may bustle about in street and shop,
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls,
Wherever your feet may go.

You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But  you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep. 

Oh! You won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.
 -- Rachel Field

Friday, November 19, 2010

Change your expectations...

I wrote in my last post about how your view of the world impacts your relationships. You learn a way of being in your family of origin (the family you grew up in) and you and your partner both came from entirely different families. Even if you think you have a lot in common, it is soon apparent that differences in expectations can cause you a lot of pain and conflict. I'd like to talk about three common expectations that can give us trouble in our relationships.

1. The Happiness Expectation

One of the expectations that we often bring to a relationship is that marriage, or another person, will make us happy. I long ago framed an old cover copy of LIFE magazine, in which one half showed the wife lounging in bed being served breakfast on a tray by her adoring spouse. The other half of the cover showed the spouse, also lounging in bed being served breakfast by his adoring spouse! I am sure that I found this particularly enduring because of some of my own unfulfilled expectations. We expect the behavior of our partner to bring us happiness. For example, I fully assumed that my husband would be the one to handle the trash in our family. My father always took care of that chore in my family or origin. I assumed that taking out the trash was equal to an act of love. My husband, however, had a different idea. His mother took care of the trash and he considered it women's work. We battled that difference for many years before finally reaching peace. We still both try to pass off the task to the other, but we don't any longer make the same assumptions as to who owns the problem.

This idea that we our happiness depends on another person's behavior is a troublemaker. Happiness begins as an inside job and expecting your partner to fulfill all your needs will only lead to frustration – and unhappiness! I spent my early married years waiting for my husband to bring me flowers. That is not the way he shows me love and when I realized that, I began to buy myself flowers.

2. The Change Expectation

Another expectation that causes problems is assuming that your partner will change after you are married. If you don't like the package prior to the wedding day, don't assume that you can bring about change. I will admit that change does happen in response to each other in a relationship. Sometimes it’s changes we want; other times it’s changes we didn’t expect. But assuming that you will be the change agent in forming your partner into the perfect man or woman of your dreams is sheer fantasy.

Barbara Streisand said, "Why does a woman work ten years to change a man's habits and then complain that he's not the man she married?" This is not a funny joke. Many people, when asked what they saw initially in their spouse, will produce a list of qualities and behaviors that were once endearing. Often these are the same qualities or behaviors now topping their complaint list! Perhaps your partner was spontaneous and fun loving. In later years, that might translate into "unpredictable" and "irresponsible." Or maybe you were serious and down-to-earth, only to hear now that you are "no fun," and "too boring." Beginning to accept your partner "as-is" is the beginning of a healthy relationship. We are often attracted to a person who is very different from us or our family and then spend a lifetime trying to make that person more like us!

3. The Peace-At-All-Costs Expectation

Many of us came from families where conflict was avoided at all costs. In those families, it is considered taboo to bring up topics that will cause anyone to become even the slightest bit upset. In other families, yelling and arguing are considered the norm and are not upsetting. Isn't it interesting that we seem to gravitate to someone who is the opposite of what we are accustomed to? Often the two types will marry and before long will wonder why there is such a disagreement in how arguments are solved. But the expectation that everything will always be smooth and that disagreements won't need to be worked out is also a poor start to a relationship.

Recognizing that these expectations exist is a good starting place for understanding why it is that two people who started out thinking that their relationship was perfect, find out soon enough that there is work to be done to make the relationship last!

(Originally posted at The Tranquil Parent blog).  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Changing World View

When my husband and I were engaged to be married (40 years ago this month!), we were required by our church to have several sessions of pre-marital counseling. The pastor who counseled us was an older, single man. He asked us how we handled conflict. I answered, "That's easy! We fight and fight and fight and then I cry and he gives in!" I was dead serious. The pastor suggested that perhaps we weren't ready to get married and should put off our decision until we had worked out better ways to solve our conflicts.

Being all-wise at the age of 21, we were quite sure that this pastor, having never been married, couldn't possibly know what was best for us and had no right to tell us we weren't ready for marriage. Besides, our method was working quite nicely (for me at least), so we ignored his comments and proceeded to use this very method of conflict resolution for the next 6 or 8 years. I was the master of the long pout and could hold out for several days, if necessary, to get my way. My husband, himself a conflict avoider, wasn't happy with the outcome at times, but since his goal was to keep me happy at all costs, this method worked for him as well. We would kiss and make up and have great make-up sex!

A funny change happened about 8 or 10 years into our marriage however. At some point, my tears stopped moving my husband to give in, and we gradually realized that our methods weren't getting either of us any satisfaction. We began the long process of learning to fight fairly, learning to negotiate, learning to look at the possibility that we might both have a valid point in any given situation. Many methods, books, counselors, retreats, friends helped us along the way. I plan to bring some of those ideas to you in later posts, but today I want to talk about how my own world view changed.

We establish our world view in our family of origin (the family we grew up in) and usually don't realize that we are acting out of that world view. My world view was that the most important thing about an argument was being "right." If I wasn't "right" then my whole belief system began to crumble around me. I needed to be "right" to prove that I was a loveable, "okay" human being. If I was "wrong," then there must be something fatally flawed about me. Many of us suffer from this black and white thinking.

One of the most important changes you can make in your relationship is to begin to accept the fact that your partner's position on a given subject has equal validity to your own and that there is a possibility that you are both "right." For example, you might assert that the "way" to get to the grocery store is by taking certain streets, making sure that all of your turns are left turns. Your partner, however, may choose a route that goes past some familiar landmark and assert that this is the correct route. Is there a "right" way to get to the grocery store? Obviously, this is a simple example, and many far-more-complex examples abound in any relationship. What is the "right" way to discipline your child? Or the "right" way to clean the kitchen? Or the "right" way to celebrate a holiday? Or the "right" way to spend or save your money?

When I began to accept that both my husband and I had valid points in a disagreement, our relationship began to grow. I began to understand that we could both hold different ideas at the same time and both be "right." I began to look at the world as a place where not only black and white exists, but many colors and shades in between.

Think of some areas where you might be willing to consider your partner's point of view and begin to change the way you see the world!

(This was originally posted by me at The Tranquil Parent blog)

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm getting old....

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don't think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new–who has known it
before?–and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new."
— Wendell Berry, VII, in Leavings

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Week that changed lives....

Here is an amazing story of God's timing, written by Hilario Pardo, Global Missions Pastor of Northshore Baptist Church, here in Bothell, Washington:

It is hard to know if writing will do justice to our experience. Photos help, but there is a great mountain of feelings that can hardly be expressed- at least with my limited literary gifting.

Northshore people responded to the January earthquake that devastated Haiti with an offering and a commitment to make sure that the money would be well-spent on the people of that country. To follow up on that commitment, a team of workers left in July under World Concern’s umbrella and direction.

 Later that summer, Jeff and Terry Clark, members of our congregation, felt a calling from the Lord to be involved further in the country and to take a medical team to hold clinics for people still affected by the damage of the quake and in great need of medical attention.

I, as a Global Mission Pastor, signed up to go with them for two important reasons:  one, to support the calling and efforts of these two emerging leaders and two, on a more personal level, to offer my help and expertise as a Registered Nurse to the people in Haiti.

Eleven people- seven from our congregation and the rest, friends and a contact from Medical Teams International, formed this team. We completed our short-term mission training, meetings, and devotionals and all embraced our philosophy of serving the world and being representatives of Christ.

One of the essential goals for every team that goes is to listen to the voice of God, remain flexible for changed direction, and to obey Him.

The evening before our departure, Thursday, October 21st, we received an email and phone call with breaking news from Haiti. A cholera outbreak was in full force in a town north of Port au Prince. It was the first cholera outbreak in the Western hemisphere in 100 years. Cholera is a bacterial disease that spreads via polluted waters and produces such violent vomiting and diarrhea that, if not treated with IV fluids, people die within hours. Reports from the internet talked about 190 people already dead by Thursday night; other reports were more graphic and tragic.

When the question, “Will you come help with the cholera outbreak?” was presented to the team, the teaching on flexibility and trust in God paid its dividends. Every single one on the team said, “Yes” to respond to the crisis; not without some trepidation or fear, but with trust that God would lead us to literally save some lives.

The trip to Haiti was a step of trusting in God. We had a lot of questions; we studied and talked about the reality of dealing with death and a very contagious disease, and we gave our lives and our knowledge to the One that can keep us safe.

Flexibility is one thing; what God allowed us to be part of and experience is another. More than being flexible, we were “stretched.” From our original plan of holding medical clinics in the city, our team was used by Medical Teams International Haiti as a first response team- we became a medical crisis team. The idea excited most of us and placed our emotions and our dependence on God to a level I never had experienced before.

We created a base camp near Saint Marc, the small city that was receiving all these dying patients from other parts of the country. The team was split to tackle two areas with very serious cases.

On Sunday, October 24, we committed ourselves to the Lord, embraced each other as we separated, and walked into the most devastating place I have ever seen.

Children, mothers, fathers, and teenagers all lay on the floors of the hospital rooms; some of the rooms were never even used for patients before.  IV fluids were hanging by nails on the wall, in open windows, and on door frames. A mother with a dying child laying on a piece of cardboard on the floor, since no beds were available, held my leg to get my attention- her eyes telling us, “help my baby.”  There was nothing we could do but change the empty IV fluids.

On the faces of our team members was despair and disbelief. I encouraged our team and said, “Do the best you can” not even believing what I was saying. The “best we could do” was not enough to save so many lives.

And we did the best we could- and even in doing that, felt totally worthless. Lots of IVs, prayers, and smiles were given to people whose faces reflected the fear of a disease unknown to them.

I have to confess that the hardest part for me was caring for the young men. They looked strong and full of youth, muscles well-formed and skin, black and shining. Each time I saw one of them, it reminded me my own son, Roberto. Lying on the floor or on the stretchers there, in a few hours, their bodies would start to deteriorate. The panic in their faces will haunt me for long time . . . and the look of despair on the faces of mothers and fathers just like me, not understanding what was happening to their child.

Oh, God really stretched us and took us to places we did not want to go. In His wisdom we trust.

A mix of emotions that ranged from feeling useful and privileged to be there to wondering, “Are we doing anything for these people?” went through our minds each day. In the end, the phrase that consoled our hearts was, “for such a day as this the Lord has brought us here.”

I am proud of our team- simple people that embraced terror and danger, not without fear, but with trust in God’s direction and compassion. I am so proud we were able to saves lives- to pray with fervor for a child as we transported him in our arms and risked our safety to save his life. I am so proud of each of the team members that did much more than what he or she was trained and called to do.

I am so proud to be their pastor, friend, and their colleague in this situation.

Today, we are going back to Seattle. As I was boarding the airplane, I overheard a conversation of someone in the line asking one of our team members, “So you were in Haiti on vacation?” “No,” Terry said, “we were part of a medical team, helping people with cholera.” The man responded, “Cholera? What is that?” After her explanation, the man jokingly said, “Yes, I was rehydrating people as well- after they had lots to drink on our yacht!!”

 And I lost it…I started to cry without consolation. I think I will cry for a long time, not only for the people in Haiti, but for me and the people  around us- for our inability to feel, to understand, and to respond to what is going on around us. Oh God, touch our hearts, Oh Lord have mercy on us.

Hilario Pardo
Global Missions Pastor